December 4, 2013 10:30 am
To take photos in the dark without a flash, photographers must rely on cranking up their ISO, the setting that determines their camera’s sensitivity to light. As light becomes more and more scarce, even the most sophisticated cameras produce grainy images at best. But MIT researchers have developed a powerful algorithm that, paired with a machine called a solid state detector, can create high-resolution, 3D renderings by detecting and recording single particles of light, Nature News reports.
Rather than invent new machinery, Nature says, the researchers focused on creating an algorithm that takes into account the physics of low light and the relationships between light particles as they move around an object. Nature describes how the machine actually works:
In the team’s setup, low-intensity pulses of visible laser light scan an object of interest. The laser fires a pulse at a given location until a single reflected photon is recorded by a detector; each illuminated location corresponds to a pixel in the final image.
To simulate real-world conditions, the researchers used an incandescent lamp that created a level of stray background photons roughly equal to those that number reflected from the laser.
Variations in the time it takes for photons from the laser pulses to be reflected back from the object provides depth information about the body — a standard way of revealing three-dimensional structure.
But this new algorithm, Nature continues, is about one hundred times more powerful than existing technologies that use this method.
The most obvious application for such a camera, of course, is for spying and surveillance, but the researchers also told Nature that it could be used for remote sensing or to study microscopic structures that may be damaged by light sources.
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November 21, 2013 12:03 pm
Cheese’s salty, creamy, gooey goodness is made possible from the biological efforts of molds and bacteria. But what if those bacteria came not from a cow, goat, sheep or the broader environment, but were intentionally colonized from a human nose, toe or belly button?
At Dublin’s Science Gallery, artists and cheesemakers lovingly harvested human microbes and cultured them into several delicious-looking but mentally off-putting wheels of cheese. The cheeses are part of a Selfmade, one installation in an exhibit called “Grow Your Own…” that explores the possibilities of synthetic life.* Each of the eleven cheeses, collected with a sterile swab from various artists and scientists’ body parts, represents a unique microbial landscape, they say, including tears, a belly button, the inside of a man’s nose and a mouth.
Here, the artists explain their work’s methodology:
Isolated microbial strains were identified and characterised using microbiological techniques and 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing. Like the human body, each cheese has a unique set of microbes that metabolically shape a unique odour. Cheese odours were sampled and characterised using headspace gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis, a technique used to identify and/or quantify volatile organic compounds present in a sample.
The cheeses, apparently, were faithful to the body smells of their original donors. “It’s no surprise that sometimes cheese odors and body odors are similar,” artist Christina Agapakis explained to Dezeen maagzine. “But when we started working together we were surprised by how not only do cheese and smelly body parts like feet share similar odor molecules but also have similar microbial populations.”
The artists recently held a wine and cheese pairing event, in which visitors stuck their noses close to the human cheese and took a big whiff. They were not allowed, however, to actually sample those delicacies. But if visitors were given a chance to take a nibble, the odds that they would agree are questionable. As one viewer anonymously wrote in a review of the exhibit, the Atlantic reports, “The cheese one: I is so yuck and grose.”
*This sentence has been updated for clarity.
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November 6, 2013 1:37 pm
According to a new study published in PLoS One, racism is correlated with both gun ownership and support of legislation on the right to carry concealed weapons. Specifically, the British and Australian authors examined the racism of white people in America towards black people in America.
The authors drew upon a representative U.S. sample from data collected in the American National Election study. They statistically analyzed attitudes towards gun ownership along with other variables such as age, gender, education, income, political affiliation, location and whether they owned a gun. To measure a person’s degree of racism, they examined responses to questions about the stereotype of blacks as being violent.
The analysis revealed that for every 1 point increase in the racism ranking, there was a 50 percent increase in the chance that the person owned a gun. Additionally, there was a nearly 30 percent increase in the chance that that person would also support the right to carry concealed guns. These results held true even after controlling for conservative politics, being from the South and harboring anti-government sentiments and other factors, Discovery News reports.
“Attitudes towards guns in many US whites appear to be influenced, like other policy preferences, by illogical racial biases,” the authors conclude. “The present results suggest that gun control policies may need to be implemented independent of public opinion.”
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October 23, 2013 1:45 pm
Researchers just discovered the first known venomous crustacean—a tiny centipede look-alike that lives in several underwater caves around the world, the BBC reports. The species, Speleonectes tulumensis, belongs to a group of animals called the remipedes. The discovery proves that venom did indeed evolve in all four of the main arthropod groups, the researchers write, and provides clues about the origin of venom evolution.
Nature describes these creepy creatures:
Observing these pale, blind and tiny animals in their natural habitat has been hard because they live in labyrinthine cave networks that are as difficult for divers to navigate as they are dangerous. Nonetheless, biologists including Björn von Reumont and Ronald Jenner, both of the Natural History Museum in London, found remipedes tossing away empty exoskeletons of shrimp, presumably having fed on them.
Upon closer inspection of these tiny-but-formidable specimens, the researchers noticed that the creatures possessed needle-like front claws. The hollow claws led to a venom gland, which produces a neurotoxin similar to that of some spiders. The remipede “breaks down body tissues with its venom and then sucks out a liquid meal from its prey’s exoskeleton,” the BBC says. (That’s one way to eat.) It remains unknown if the remipede venom would have any effect on a curious diver poking at the tiny creature; if we ever come across one, though, we’re going to hope not to be the ones to find out.
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September 10, 2013 1:14 pm
In the London newspaper The Times, the story goes, Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famed explorer of Antarctica, posted the following ad:
The pitch certainly captures a certain glorious spirit—“Ah, when ships were made of wood and men were made of steel…” said one Twitter user in response to the advert being shared by the Shackleton Foundation. In response to his posted ad, Shackleton was supposedly flooded with 5000 responses, men clamoring to take their chances on the icy southern continent. The story has been told and retold, and the quote has been riffed on to no end.
But here’s the problem. The ad, and the well-loved quote it bore, probably never existed.
For at least the past 12 years there’s been $100 on the line for anyone who can find a copy of the original advertisement. A modest sum, sure, but more than enough to stoke the interest of historians worldwide. Mark Horrell summarizes the long trail of evidence dug up by the Arctic Circle group of historians working on tracking down the clip:
So far amateur historians have searched The Times archive from 1785 to 1985 (a little over-zealous given Shackleton died in 1922), the entire archive of the South Polar Times, a magazine called The Blizzard, several issues of the Geographical Journal, and the archives of a number of other national and local London newspapers, without success. The earliest known source is a book published in 1944 called Quit You Like Men by Carl Hopkins Elmore, which in turn led to it appearing at No.1 in the 1949 book The 100 Greatest Advertisements by Julian Watkins, which in turn is quoted in Roland Huntford’s 1985 biography of Shackleton and numerous other books about polar exploration.
Sir,–It has been an open secret for some time past that I have been desirous of leading another expedition to the South Polar regions.
I am glad now to be able to state that, through the generosity of a friend, I can announce that an expedition will start next year with the object of crossing the South Polar continent from sea to sea.
I have taken the liberty of calling the expedition “The Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition,” because I feel that not only the people of these islands, but our kinsmen in all the lands under the Union Jack will be willing to assist towards the carrying out of the full programme of exploration to which my comrades and myself are pledged.
ERNEST H. SHACKLETON
Not only can no references be found to an original source, searching the Times itself leads to nothing. The months covering Shackleton’s preparations for his expeditions have been read, and the rest of the paper programmatically searched, but both methods have come up empty. It would not have even made sense for Shackleton to place an ad in the paper. There was plenty of free press coverage of his expedition, and he would already have had plenty of men to choose from. Some of the descendents of his men remember being told their ancestors responded to an ad Shackleton placed in the paper, but this was likely a recollection based on reading the ad rather than something they were actually told. Frank Worsley, one of the crew members, wrote his memoirs and did not record seeing an ad, instead he just happened upon the expedition’s offices and decided to apply. Inspiring though it may be, it seems that Shackleton’s famous ad is mostly likely a myth.
People love the Shackleton advertisement and the tale it tells about the spirit of these brave adventurers. But though their harrowing expedition, and the achievements of Shackleton and his men were real, the ad that brought them all together, sadly, was probably not.
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